As covered in our CFL course, judges should use solid proof to reach decisions over payment responsibilities – it’s not about who you know, but what you know. Evidence is crucial in finding how much a spouse can afford to pay for court-imposed costs.
In the Florida appellate court case of Troike v. Troike, the husband had to pay alimony and child support which amounted to about 40 percent of his income. He was entirely responsible for his ex-wife’s attorney’s costs, guardian ad litem, psychologist, and supervised time-sharing fees. But, he needed to borrow money from his parents to pay them. The court decided on the parties’ financial ability to pay the court-imposed fees.
Jennifer and Trenton Troike were married for five years before Trenton filed for divorce in 2016. The couple had two daughters born in 2012 and 2014.
They lived in a home Trenton and his parents bought before the marriage. Trenton became an owner of the house by quitclaim deed during the marriage.
In his divorce petition, Trenton sought time-sharing of the children, which Jennifer didn’t oppose. During the proceedings, a dispute developed between the couple over time-sharing. Therefore, in July 2017, the trial court appointed a guardian ad litem to advise the trial court regarding the children’s interests. The trial court also ordered psychological evaluations of each party. These tests resulted in a recommendation that Trenton’s time with the children be supervised.
At a May 2018 hearing on time-sharing, the trial court adopted the psychologist’s recommendation in a series of orders that resulted in a corrected time-sharing order on appeal. In the first of these orders, dated May 3, 2018, the trial court required Trenton to pay all supervised time-sharing costs. After the filing of the initial brief in the appeal, in October 2018, the trial court reinstated unsupervised time-sharing for Trenton and his children, though not to the same extent as before May 2018.
Trenton is a police officer for Miami-Dade County. In the August 2017 temporary child support order, the court found that he grossed $8,190 monthly. At the start of the marriage, Jennifer was an executive assistant and worked part-time for Mary Kay Cosmetics. She left her executive assistant job when she became pregnant with her first child. Since the divorce, she continued to work part-time.
The August 2017 order imposed a monthly temporary child support payment on Trenton of $1,351. A May 31, 2018 order levied a monthly temporary alimony payment of $2,000. Also, the trial court determined he owed a back child support payment of $3,325.54 from August to October 2017 and ordered him to pay Jennifer in 45 days. Since the separation, Trenton voluntarily paid Jennifer’s monthly car payment, car and health insurance premiums, and a partial cellphone cost the trial court calculated as $970. Per the July 2017 order, he had to pay all guardian ad litem fees and costs. He testified at the April 2018 hearing that those fees and costs amounted to about $15,000. In his initial brief, he revealed those fees and costs had reached nearly $33,000. The May 31, 2018 order imposed on Trenton full payment of Jennifer’s attorney’s fees and costs totaling $28,275.28, payable within 60 days, unless he arranged a payment plan.
Trenton paid the guardian ad litem fees, his own attorney’s fees, and part of the psychologist’s fees through loans from his parents. At the April 2018 hearing, he testified that, though no promissory note shows the obligation, he owed his parents about $40,000. He stated he had paid about $1,000 monthly for court-ordered therapy and supervised visitation. Trenton also paid $1,720 monthly for the mortgage and related expenses, which partly benefited Jennifer because of her homeownership interest. She stayed in the house until the end of October 2017, when she rented an apartment at $1,350 monthly for herself and the children.
Florida Third District Court of Appeal Decision
The appeals court concluded that the October 2018 order reinstated some unsupervised time sharing to Trenton and “supersedes the May 25, 2018 order and, therefore, moots this issue.”
According to the appeals court, the “ultimate question” about the May 31, 2018 temporary support order was whether the trial court ordered Trenton to pay too much of his income for support, temporary alimony, and temporary attorney’s fees and costs. The appellate ruling noted that the trial court levied on Trenton a monthly temporary child support payment of $1,351 and $2,000 monthly in temporary alimony.
The court understood that the temporary alimony included the $970 in monthly voluntary payments on Jennifer’s behalf. Because these temporary monthly payments (totaling $3,351) reflected an amount less than 40 percent of Trenton’s monthly earnings (of $8,393), the appeals court decided that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in ordering him to make those payments. It concluded, however, that the trial court abused its discretion in imposing the $28,275.28 payment on Trenton for Jennifer’s attorney’s fees and costs without findings showing his ability to pay them. The record showed that Trenton could pay the temporary monthly obligation of $3,351, but it didn’t contain “competent substantial evidence that appellant has the ability to pay this additional $28,275.28 obligation.”
Also, the appeals court noted that Florida law requires a trial court to consider the parties’ financial ability to pay when it imposes attorney’s fees and costs. It also stated that though Trenton had used loans to pay his attorney’s fees and costs, those of the guardian ad litem, and other costs associated with the divorce, the loans shouldn’t be considered part of the determination of his ability to pay.
The court had evidence of Jennifer’s financial needs, but not of Trenton’s ability to pay. Therefore, the appellate ruling partly reversed the $28,275.28 payment order, requested that the trial court make findings and re-evaluate Trenton’s ability to pay the expenses and remanded for proceedings consistent with its opinion.
In our CFL course, financial matters in divorce take center court. You learn the details that can make or break cases, and why it’s not always about who you know, but what you know. Find out more in our free information packet today.